A man sits in front of a computer monitor, looking at a text conversation.

A Chat With ChatGPT About Prostate Cancer

Receiving a cancer diagnosis for the first time is much like having a clanging alarm clock suddenly go off by your head. “I have cancer! I have cancer!” Ring, ring, ring. I thought I was prepared for anything that day, even that. But I wasn’t.

Reflecting on my diagnosis

As I look back, my lack of preparation led to an interest in answering three questions: 1) What could I have done differently? 2) How can I help others avoid my mistakes and/or pitfalls that can arise with a prostate cancer diagnosis, and 3) How can I help my son prepare, even as a healthy young man?

Technology is always advancing, and though artificial intelligence systems like ChatGPT were not available then, they are now. How might a chat with ChatGPT help answer those questions? This is what I found. (Remember, ChatGPT is only one source of information; it is also important to speak with your medical team, get second opinions, and much more).

Questions I asked ChatGPT about prostate cancer

Next steps

Question: I was just diagnosed with prostate cancer, what should I do next?

After a disclaimer that he was not a doctor, and that I should consult with one, he offered 10 general steps. Among them was to consult with specialists, explore treatment options, get second opinions, learn about possible treatment side effects, and seek support.

It was a decent list, and if one spends several days on all 10 listed, it could easily take a month or more to complete. Though this might add anxiety, I think the take-away should be that time really needs to be spent here. The more you learn now, the better prepared you can be to receive the results and to deal with anything else ahead.

Treatment options

Question: Which treatment options offer the best chance for a cure?

This answer did not include any specifics. Essentially, “your mileage may vary.” Then he described 5 treatment options: surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, cryotherapy, and high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU). If you have not heard of any of these, you now have something to investigate. Learn about them and you may be able to speak much more knowledgeably at the end of the long week.

This or That

Have you ever chatted with an AI program about your cancer?

Question: Which treatment options have the least chance at side effects?

Again, your mileage may vary. All prostate cancer treatments can potentially have side effects, the likelihood and severity of which varies from person to person. But then the nugget: “the choice of treatment often involves weighing the potential benefits of controlling or eliminating the cancer against the risk of side effects.”

This idea will permeate everything that follows. Good to hear it now. Also, the first mention of active surveillance appeared here. Interesting, now there are 6 treatment options to consider. Are there any others?

Question: Can you list all the various prostate cancer treatments commercially available today?

There were 11 treatments listed: active surveillance, surgery, radiation (both external beam and brachytherapy, but not proton therapy, which I underwent). Also listed were hormone therapy, cryotherapy, HIFU, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, radiopharmaceutical therapy, and bone targeted therapies. When I received my results from my urologist, he mentioned only 4 of these. Several, like chemo, would not have been indicated for my particular situation.

But I think this is a potential way to know what is available, so you can ask about items of interest that the doctor does not discuss.

Experience and hindsight led to a proton therapy question next, because it still had not been mentioned.

Proton therapy

Question: Do you have any information on proton therapy to treat prostate cancer?

His answer was lengthy, and surprisingly accurate. He described what protons were, how they differ from photons, and that the therapy has been used to treat various cancers including prostate. It was heavily ladened with disclaimers noting that things change and to consult with specialists. He then described seven key points of proton therapy relating to precision, reduced radiation to healthy tissues, the course of treatment, efficacy, availability and access, side effects, and cost.

It was a solid response. For more about Proton Therapy, please see my 3-part series, “Proton Therapy, What’s the catch?”

The last question was a snarky one, essentially: “If you know that much about proton therapy, why didn’t you mention it before?”

He apologized for the oversight, appreciated my “diligence,” and emphasized that he tries to offer the latest information, but that things change and that some details can be omitted. Fair enough.

What I took away from Chat GPT's responses

Even though I may have “caught” him on that last item, I found the chat with ChatGPT to be useful, accurate, and surprisingly thorough. But it is important to know that ChatGPT is not designed to be 100-percent accurate. One study from 2023 found it to be closer to 72-percent accurate with clinical information.1

Overall, I think a well-timed chat can aid in an initial understanding of the disease, expose you to terms and ideas that were likely unfamiliar, and help you speak more knowledgeably about prostate cancer. It might even help you chart a course for the months ahead. With all the new sources of information available now, hopefully you won’t have to listen to the bells that I heard!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The ProstateCancer.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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